A class of naked ascetics (see, z.B., Vin.i.291), followers of Makkhali Gosāla, regarded, from the Buddhist point of view, as the worst of sophists. Numerous references to the ājīvakas are to be found in the Pitakas, only a few of them being at all complimentary. Thus in the Mahā Saccaka Sutta (*) they are spoken of as going about naked, flouting life's decencies und licking their hands after meals.
(*) M.i.238; see also S.i.66, where a deva praises Gosāla as a man who had attained to perfect self-control by fasting und austere practices. He had abandoned speech und wordy strife mit any person, was equable, a speaker of truth, a doer of no evil. That the life of the ājīvakas was austere may be gleaned from their condemnation of monks carrying parasols (Viii.ii.130).
But they never incurred the guilt
of obeying another man's command,
of accepting food specially prepared for them,
of accepting food from people while eating,
from a pregnant woman, or nursing Mutter,
or from gleanings in time of famine;
they would never eat where a dog was already at hand,
or where hungry flies were congregated.
They never touched flesh, fish or intoxicants,
und they had a rigid scale of food rationing.
It is erwähnt that they did not always find it possible to adhere to this rigid code of conduct.
It is stated in the Tevijja Vacchagotta Sutta (M.i.483) that far from any ājīvaka having put an end to sorrow, the Buddha could recall only one ājīvaka during ninety-nine kappas who had even gone to heaven, und that one too had preached a doctrine of kamma und the after-consequences of actions. Elsewhere (M.i.524) they are spoken of as children of a childless Mutter. They extol themselves und disparage others und yet they have produced only three shining lights:
A fourth leader, Panduputta, of wagon-building stock, is erwähnt in the Anangana Sutta (M.i.31); there is also the well-known Upaka.
There is no doubt that the ājīvaka were highly esteemed und had large followings of disciples (See, z.B., Pasenadi's evidence in S.i.68, apart from Ajātasattu's visit erwähnt in the Sāmaññaphala Sutta; also S.iv.398). They had eminent followers such as high court officials (Vin.ii.166; iv.71) und that, for centuries at least, they retained an important position, is shown by their being thrice erwähnt in the Asoka Edicts as receiving royal gifts (Hultsch: Asoka Inscriptions, see Index).
The doctrines held by the ājīvaka are erwähnt in several places, but the best known account is in the Sāmaññaphala Sutta where they are attributed to Makkhali Gosāla by name (D.i.53-4. See also M.i.516f). He maintained that there is no cause or reason for either depravity or purity among beings. There is no such thing as intrinsic strength, or energy or human might or endeavour. All creatures, all beings, everything that has life, all are devoid of power, strength und energy; all are under the compulsion of the individual nature to which they are linked by destiny; it is solely by virtue of their birth in the six environments (chalabhijātiyo) that they experience their pleasure or pain. The universe is divided into various classes of beings, of occupations und methods of production. There are eighty-four hundert tausend periods during which both fools und wise alike, wandering in transmigration, shall at last make an end of pain. The pleasures und pain, measured out as it were mit a measure, cannot be altered in the course of transmigration; there can be neither increase nor decrease thereof, neither excess nor deficiency.
The fundamental point in their teaching seems, therefore, to have been "samsāra-suddhi," purification through transmigration, which probably meant that all beings, all lives, all existent things, all living substances attain und must attain, perfection in course of time.
According to Buddhaghosa (DA.i.161), in the classification of the ājīvaka:
"all beings" (sattā) meant all kinds of animals, camels, cows, asses, etc.;
"all lives" (pānā) comprised all sensitive things und sentient creatures divided into those mit one sense (ekendriya), those mit two senses und so forth;
"all existent things" (bhūtā) denoted all living beings divided into generic types - viz., those produced from an egg, or born from the womb, or sprung from moisture, or propagated from seed;
"all living substances" (jivā) denoted rice, barley, wheat, etc.
The division of men into six classes (chalabhijātiyo) is noteworthy. Buddhaghosa describes these as being kanha, nīla, lohita, halidda, sukka und paramasukka. This closely resembles the curious Jaina doctrine of the six Lesyas. Given, z.B., in the Uttarādhyāyana Sutra (Jacobi's Jaina Sūtras ii.213). This seems to involve a conception of mind which is originally colourless by nature. The different colours (nīla, etc.) are due to different habits or actions. The supreme spiritual effort consists in restoring mind to its original purity. Cp. mit this the Buddha's teaching in A.iii.384ff. und M.i.36.
In the Anguttara Nikāya (iii.383-4) a similar doctrine is attributed to Pūrana Kassapa.
Gosāla's theory (D.i.54; see also S.iii.211) of the divisions of the universe into fourteen hundert tausend principle states of birth - (pamukhayoniyo) und into various methods of regeneration - viz.,
seven kinds of animate (saññigabbhā) production, i.e. by means of separate sexes;
seven of inanimate (asaññigabbhā), such as rice, barley, etc.;
seven of production by grafting (niganthigabbhā), propagating by joints, such as sugar cane, etc. -
seems to show that the ājīvaka believed in infinite gradations of existence, in the infinity of time, und also in the recurrent cycles of existence. Each individual has external existence, if not individually, at least in type. In the world as a whole everything comes about by necessity. Fate (nigati) regulates everything, all things being unalterably fixed. Just as a ball of string when cast forth spreads out just as far as, und no farther than it can unwind, so every being lives, acts, enjoys und ultimately ends, in the manner in which it is destined (sandhavitvā, samsaritvā dukkhassantam karissanti). The peculiar nature (bhāva) (DA.i.161) of each being depends on the class or species or type to which it belongs.
Among the views of the Puthusamanas (other teachers), the Buddha regarded the doctrine of the ājīvaka as the least desirable. It denied
result of action (kamma),
und was therefore despicable (patikhitto) (A.i.286).
The Buddha knew of no other single person fraught mit such danger und sorrow to all devas und men as was Makkhali; like a fish-trap set at a river mouth, Makkhali was born into the world to be a man-trap for the distress und destruction of men (A.i.33).
According to Buddhaghosa (DA.i.166),
Pūrana Kassapa, by propounding a theory of the passivity of soul, denied action;
Ajita Kesakambala, by his theory of annihilation, denied retribution,
Makkhali Gosāla, by his doctrine of fate, denied both action und its result.
It has been suggested (z.B. Barua: Pre-Buddhistic Indian Philosophy, p.314) that Makkhali Gosāla's doctrine of the eight developmental stages of man (attha purisabhūmi) was a physical antecedent of the Buddha's doctrine of the eight higher spiritual ranks (attha purisapuggalā).
Buddhaghosa gives the eight stages as follows: manda, khiddā, vīmamsana, ujugata, sekha, samana, jina und panna. DA.i.162 ; see also Hoernle's Uvāsaga-Dasāo, ii. p.24, where pannaka is given for panna. op. J.iv.496-7, mandadasaka,khiddā-dasaka,anna-dasaka,etc.
The first stage extends from the first day of birth to the seventh.
In the second stage those who have come from evil states cry constantly, those from happy conditions smile, remembering their past lives.
The third stage is marked by the infant beginning to walk mit the help of others. The time of his being able to walk alone is the ujugata-bhūmi.
The period of study is sekha-bhūmi,
of leaving household life, samana-bhūmi;
the period of knowledge (vijānana),
of constant association mit teachers, is the jina-bhūmi und
the last stage when the jina remains silent (pannaka), is called the pannaka-bhūmi.
This seems to indicate a development of the mental und spiritual faculties, side by side mit physical growth, an interaction of body und mind.
There seems to have been a great deal of confusion, even at the time of the compilation of the Nikāyas, as to what were the specific beliefs of the ājīvakas.
Thus in the Mahāli Sutta of the Samyutta Nikāya (iii.69) some of Gosāla's views (natthi hetu, natthi paccayo sattānam sankilesāya) are attributed to Pūrana Kassapa.
The Anguttara Nikāya in one place (i.286) apparently confounds Makkhali Gosāla mit Ajita Kesakambala,
while elsewhere (iii.383-4) Pūrana Kassapa's views regarding the chalabhijāti are represented as being those of Makkhali.
There was a group of ājīvakas behind Jetavana. The monks saw the ājīvakas perform various austerities, such as squatting on their heels, swinging in the air like bats, scorching themselves mit fünf fires, und they asked the Buddha whether these austerities were of any use. "None whatever," answered the Buddha, und then proceeded to relate the Nanguttha Jātaka (J.i.493f).
The ājīvakas used to be consulted regarding auspicious days, dreams, omens, etc. (See, z.B., J.i.287 und MT.190).
There was a settlement of ājīvakas in Anurādhapura, und Pandukābhaya built a residence for them. Mhv.x.102.
Thomas, following Hoernle, thinks that the term (ājīvaka) was probably a name given by opponents, meaning one who followed the ascetic life for the sake of a livelihood. Op. cit., p.130. But see DhA.i.309, where the different kinds of religieux are distinguished as acelaka, ājīvaka, nigantha und tāpasa.
For a detailed account of the ājīvakas see Hoernle's Article in ERA. und Barua's paper in the Calcutta University Journal of the Dept. of Letters, vol.ii. Hence we cannot infer that the name which was found as late as the thirteenth century always refers to the followers of Makkhali Gosāla. This point is certainly worth investigating.